The Nationals finally saw exactly what they hoped to see from Dan Haren when he signed the one-year/$13 million deal this past offseason. His outing against Atlanta, in what he admitted after the game felt like a must-win contest, was absolutely stellar. The Nats beat the Braves 3-1 as they moved back above the .500 mark and within 2.5 games of the division-leading Braves, which is exactly how they started the series.
Haren pitched eight masterful innings, taking a cue from Jordan Zimmermann's eight inning masterpiece the night before. He made it through those eight innings on 90 pitches, allowing just one run on four hits and a walk. His start earned an impressive Game Score of 73. In comparison, Jordan Zimmermann's last two game scores were 88 (complete game shutout vs. Cincinnati) and 86 (eight inning shutout vs. Atlanta.)
Haren finally was able to keep the ball down in the zone, and he was comfortable with is drop in velocity. He threw his cutter and splitter almost exclusively, both hovering in the mid-80s on the radar gun. The Braves went up swinging early and often, and despite only striking out four, he got a lot of quick outs. Entering the eighth inning, Haren had thrown just 69 pitches. The 21 pitch eighth where he got into what was the closest to a "jam" he was in all game spelled the end to his fantastic night.
The Nats offense still hasn't lit up the run column lately, but the fantastic pitching they've gotten has rescued them as it did in April 2012. Denard Span continues to show his value as the Nats center fielder with a 3-for-4 night with a walk. He was at least partially responsible for all three of the Nats runs by knocking in two and scoring one himself. He's currently hitting .292 and getting on-base at a .364 clip, rivaling Ian Desmond for the hottest hitter on team right now.
A split in this four-game series was the best case scenario, not just after losing the first two, but because it's incredibly difficult to win a four-game series. The Braves now face the Mets at home, but then they have to go on the road for a 10-day road trip against the Reds, Giants, and Diamondbacks. The Nats don't have the easiest schedule ahead, either, but at least the Braves aren't going to skate on easy street.